Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson delivers his final State of the City speech
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, in his final State of the City speech, set out to explain what he will hand over to the city’s next leader.
He made his points in his characteristically low-key style — not with grand rhetoric, but with budget numbers. The city’s longest-serving mayor rattled through the carryover balances expected to be left in the city’s accounts at the end of the year.
Every mayor inherits good things, challenges and the chance to do something original, Jackson said.
“When you become mayor, all of that belongs to you and no one else: the good, the bad and the opportunity to do your own thing, belongs to you,” Jackson said. “With the knowledge, however, that there’s a crisis just around the corner, that if you don’t handle it properly, it will destroy all of which has been accomplished.”
Cleveland, one of the country’s poorest cities, has met many crises around the corners of the last 16 years of Jackson’s administration, from the foreclosure meltdown to a federal investigation of the police to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jackson said he intended to leave the city better than he found it: positioned for a sustainable future and on the road toward rooting out ingrained social inequities. The four-term mayor didn’t announce any last plans or initiatives, save a mention that utility rate increases were on the horizon.
The mayor also discussed some of the challenges still facing the city: a COVID-19 vaccination rate around 40 percent, an increase in violence and gun seizures, a police reform agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that has not yet run its course.
He noted the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s increase in graduation rates, saying voters deserved to see results in education after approving multiple school funding ballot issues.
“The voters and the citizens have given us everything that we’ve asked for, and so they deserve the results that they expect,” he said.
Jackson thanked his cabinet, city workers and his own family members, who grew up in difficult circumstances despite their relation to the mayor. Jackson’s 24-year-old grandson, Frank Q. Jackson, was shot and killed in September.
“It’s not easy living in a bubble, particularly with children,” the mayor said. “It’s not easy growing up in a bubble, when you’re judged by many different standards and having to live in the challenges that you have to live in and the environment that you have to be brought up in, and judged by that.”
Although his speech dwelled on themes of succession, Jackson did not mention Justin Bibb or Council President Kevin Kelley, the two candidates vying to replace him. Kelley, whom the mayor has endorsed, attended the speech but left early to attend a candidate forum.
Before leaving the stage one last time, the mayor clarified what he meant by the phrase that has become the watchword of his 16-year administration.
“I can’t leave without saying, ‘It is what it is,’” Jackson said, to laugher in the audience.
He doesn’t use the expression fatalistically, he said. Instead, he means it as a recognition of reality's challenges.
“When I say, ‘It is what it is,’ what I mean is I have to accept reality no matter how painful it is,” he said. “Because if I’m going to fulfill that purpose for which I’m here, and use this tool of the mayor[’s office] to fulfill that purpose, I cannot be making decisions and living in an illusion.”
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